Mocksville, Cooleemee, Salisbury, Gold Hill
Follow the Yadkin River — a powerful inspiration to writers from Davie and Rowan counties, recent and long past.
Writers with a connection to this area: Kurt Corriher, Janice Moore Fuller, John Hart, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hinton Rowan Helper, Langston Hughes, Harriet Jacobs, James Weldon Johnson, Hugh T. Lefler, Audre Lorde, Robert Morgan, Jim Rumley, Joanna Catherine Scott, Frances Fisher Tiernan (Christian Reid), Margaret Walker, Richard Walser and Henry Wiencek.
The childhood home of Salisbury novelist John Hart
The river is my earliest memory. The front porch of my father’s house looks down on it from a low knoll, and I have pictures, faded yellow, of my first days on that porch. I slept in my mother’s arms as she rocked there, played in the dust while my father fished, and I know the feel of that river even now: the slow churn of red clay, the black eddies under cut banks, the secrets it whispered to the hard, pink granite of Rowan County. Everything that shaped me happened near that river. I lost my mother in sight of it, fell in love on its banks. I could smell it on the day my father drove me out. It was part of my soul, and I thought I’d lost it forever. But things can change, that’s what I told myself. Mistakes can be undone, wrongs righted. That’s what brought me home.
—From Down River, by John Hart (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007), 1.
Salisbury novelist John Hart was inspired by the Yadkin River and the nearby region. Hart’s second novel, Down River, is partly inspired by his wistful longing for the nearly five hundred acres his own family once possessed on nearby High Rock Lake — land, Hart says, that had remained pristine from the time General Cornwallis camped there. When his parents divorced they sold the land, and it became a trailer park and dump site. Hart’s thriller, Down River, begins with the return of a prodigal son, Adam Chase, to Rowan County. But because of his checkered past Chase soon finds himself a potential suspect in a murder. Hart says that trips to local vineyards also helped inspire his novel.
On Highway 64 West near Mocksville after the crossroads with N.C. 801, you are in the vicinity of Elisha Creek — land that long ago belonged to Daniel Boone’s father. According to writer Robert Morgan, Daniel Boone was 16 when his father, Squire Boone, became increasingly disenchanted with the Quaker community in Pennsylvania where the family lived. Squire had heard tales of beautiful lands to the south in Virginia and N.C. that could be had cheap. Robert Morgan picks up the tale with his characteristic lyricism:
The Boones arrived on the Yadkin in the fall of 1751. The Yadkin and its feeder creeks moved fast enough to turn gristmills and saw mills. The bottomlands and meadows offered unsurpassed soil for farming, and the higher ground was ideal for grazing. . . . The soil along the river and tributary creeks of the Yadkin Valley was a rainbow of colors and textures. Near the streams, the ground, once cleared of roots and exposed to the sun, was a black alluvial powder, a mixture of silt and sand and rotted vegetation perfect for growing watermelons and corn, crops favored by loose, damp soil. In a rainy season streams sometimes overflowed and left standing pools in the hot sun that scalded the roots of species such as beans. Farther from the river, on gently rising land that rarely flooded, the topsoil was rich brown, the color of dark roast coffee. Stiffer than the loam along the river, the dirt was still loose when plowed, with glittering bits of quartz and mica among its crumbs and sugary lumps. Among the brown cortex of soil were patches of silver clay drawn up by the plow, and yellow splotches of oxide-rich subsoil were exposed by cultivation or erosion, as well as beds and bands of red clay.
—From Boone: A Biography, by Robert Morgan (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007), 32, 33.
As legend has it, the Boones lived in a cave for a time on the opposite side of the Yadkin. Today those grounds are the site of Boone’s Cave State Park, more easily accessible from the town of Lexington in Davidson County than from this side of the river. Historical records also suggest that Squire and Sarah Boone and their children spent time on Elisha Creek and then obtained 640 acres on the west side of Mocksville, near Bear Creek. Not long after coming to N.C., young Daniel Boone met a neighbor, Rebecca Bryan, and married her in 1756 in a ceremony conducted by his father, who had by then become a local magistrate. The newlyweds likely lived in a cabin on Squire’s property for a time but then moved some miles north, building their own home place east of the present town of Farmington on the north side of I-40. Daniel and Rebecca lived there off and on for a decade.
Along U.S. 64 west, closer to the town of Mocksville, once called “Old Mock’s Field,” it’s hard to imagine the hardship of clearing land and setting up homesteads in this area. Robert Morgan conveys the toil and also the dangers posed to the settlers by native Sapona Indians, who did not always appreciate the white interlopers. For his part, Daniel Boone respected the native peoples of the region and tried to avoid conflict with them. Morgan says the Cherokee named him “widemouth” because Boone “was prone to laughter and storytelling” (71). A poet’s sensibility Daniel Boone may have had, but he was not a good speller, as will be evident shortly at his father’s gravesite.
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